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Freelance entertainment writer, martial arts instructor, and mother of two.

American Idol 12, Jan. 16 – Hooking Me Again

Evan Ruggiero, 21, from Old Bridge, NJ, has been dancing for about seventeen years and was cast in a musical shooting for Broadway, yet when he was 19, was diagnosed with bone cancer. He was only thinking about staying alive, not an entertainment career. His mom could only think what she would do without her child. After chemo and surgery, the cancer came back, and to save his life, the doctors amputated his leg. To be here today means the world to him. Just because he has a disability doesn't mean he can't be the next American Idol.

Evan tells the judges he's a one-legged tap dancer and that he's been playing guitar for about nine years. He sings I'm Yours for the judges and is pretty good. You can hear the musical theater in him. He plays a little Bon Jovi on the guitar for them, and I have to admit I like this a little more. Keith even sings background for him.

Keith tells Evan he likes his voice, but isn't sure of the star factor yet. Mariah thinks he should take the time to figure out his style, and Nicki thinks that because he came to this point with what he's been through, he won't even realize everything he's been through. Randy and the others all say no, but Mariah doesn't think he's the type to give up and hopes to see him back next year. She tells him he has inspired her. He walks away hoping he touched someone out there. He knows it's not the worst thing that's ever happened to him.

The show had asked people to nominate someone in their life who they thought deserved a shot. Janice Kartalis is nominating her daughter Jessica Rose, 19, of Staten Island, because everyone tells them she should be on the show. Randy goes to visit her as a surprise. She's performing at a local joint and sees Randy walk in. Her face is priceless. He hands her a contestant number to stand in front of the judges.

Jessica now walks in to officially audition and thanks Randy for coming to get her. She explains he doesn't want to label herself and wants the show to guide her. Randy asks first for an original song from her accompanied by the guitar. Mariah is ready for the originality. She sings a cappella and is good until she starts on the guitar, offkey, and apologizes.

Nicki doesn't think she's ready yet, and Jessica asks for another chance, but Nicki thinks they've heard what she has to offer. Mariah knows it's hard to play unexpectedly, but still feels she's not quite ready, and Randy agrees. Keith likes her purity. For him it's close to a yes, yet not quite. Randy tells her he loves her and her spirit and doesn't want her to lose it and give up. Nicki just wishes everyone else knew how many doors the people on the panel had closed on them before they got their shot.

Shira Gabrielov, 23, from Brooklyn via Israel, is encouraged by Mariah to talk to her in her native tongue. Her dad is a composer and songwriter, and she started playing piano and writing songs. She had her first CD out when she was 17, and one of the songs went number one, yet she moved to New York to get a bite of the apple. She's not bad singing Valerie, but seems like she needs a little more. Nicki loves what she did with Valerie, and wants to feel that from everyone, a connection between look, sound and everything working together. All four judges say yes simultaneously.

The last contestant of the day is Frankie Ford, 24, Brooklyn. He admits he's from a tough neighborhood and that it made him tough. He found out at the age of 8 he was adopted. His biological mom suffered from substance abuse, so he's been with his adoptive mother since he was 2. They're very close. He sings on the train as his source of income. He's run into people he knows who wonder how far he's fallen. He has every intention of outworking everyone on the show.

Frankie tells the judges he left school to pursue music and is now singing on the train. Nicki tries to explain this practice to Aussie Keith, and Randy tells her it's the same as what Keith would know as busking. Keith says he played on a train too. Frankie auditions with Sweet Dream (Are Made of This) and has to start over after getting nervous. When the nerves aren't taking ahold of him, he's quite good. He finally hits it, and it brings out smiles from the judges.

Keith likes him and his big voice with the musicality and dynamics in his tone. Randy “likes this kid.” Frankie promises to put in the work. Mariah notices his inner-glow that can't be manufactured. Nicki sees it too and thinks it's what makes him different, admitting he doesn't have the best voice there, but she thinks his story should be told. It's four yeses. Frankie goes to Hollywood. What a title.

On the second day in New York, with the judges sitting in an opposite order from the first day, Nicki asks if it's beauty lighting, and Mariah says something about setting it up for her face. Keith is caught in the middle again. Did they move the order so that one of the ladies would have better lighting?

The first contestant on the day is Benjamin Caisey, 27, a sales consultant, Sinking Spring, PA. He's confident and a ladies man, but with an ugly wig on and Michael Jackson outfit, I'm questioning that claim. He admits it's a Halloween costume from years ago. He's going to sing two love songs for the two beautiful lady judges. It's definitely what we figured, a bad audition. Nicki asks for more, seemingly just to give Randy more of a chance to laugh. Keith disappears behind the desk, saying it's not safe.

Reappearing, Keith thinks Benjamin really loves Tom Jones. Mariah doesn't want to destroy someone's dreams, but it's a little over the top. Keith doesn't think it's the right avenue for him. Nicki really likes him, but says singing isn't for him. Randy explains they're trying to say his voice is terrible. He gets noes, as his outfit squeaks out the door.

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